As an auto enthusiast, one of my favorite times of the year on the Monterey Peninsula is Monterey Car Week. From stunning supercars (that look like moving pieces of art) to sleek, sexy sports cars (that definitely tempt me to put the pedal to the metal), Monterey auto week is as fun as it sounds.
But it’s so much more than just the cars – part of my joy is connecting with the inspiring and interesting people who make the auto industry go round. I love learning about their backgrounds, the way they think, and what drives them.
Image credit: Nicole Palumbo (Event Marketing for Alfa-Romeo)
If there’s one celebration in particular that I always look forward to, it’s the annual MotorTrend x Alfa-Romeo VIP Party at Folktale Vineyards in Carmel, California. Having attended for the past several years, I’ve started to feel like I’m part of the family by now. But seriously, it’s like a reunion for the automotive sector.
I’m always fascinated by people who follow their dreams, dare to make things happen, and take a chance on their big ideas. That’s why I loved catching up this year with some of the key players that are driving the future of the auto industry. I find it interesting to discover the hidden muses that keep them inspired, the unique ways that they stay ahead of the competition, and even who they are (on a personal level).
From illustrious car designer Ralph Gilles, (Chief Design Officer for Stellantis, which is a merger between PSA Group & Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) and his fun track-racing wife Doris Gilles to Celebrity IOU Joyride TV host & entrepreneur behind Radford Motors Ant Anstead, and Ed Loh (Editor-in-Chief of MotorTrend magazine), car week is the ultimate get-together for auto industry insiders.
If you’re curious to discover what inspires Ralph (and how he keeps his team of designers motivated), learn how he and his wife, Doris, bond together while racing cars (and find out how the auto industry drove them to find love with each other), and catch up on Ant Anstead’s exciting recent personal and professional news, read on to learn about this year’s cocktails, cars, and conversations at car week.
To start with – Ralph Gilles (pictured below) has had a long history designing cars, as he got his start in 1992.
He was the President and CEO of Chrysler’s SRT brand and Senior Vice President of Design at Chrysler before being promoted to Head of Design for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in April 2015. Essentially, he’s been responsible for shaping and directing design across the Company’s entire brand portfolio (including Alfa-Romeo, Fiat, Chrysler, and Jeep). Following FCA’s merger into the Stellantis group in 2021, he became chief design officer for the newly merged company.
But his dream job didn’t start there… in truth, he began sketching concept cars at age 8. His aunt wanted to motivate him to follow his dreams, so she sent his drawings to (then Chrysler Chairman) Lee Iacocca, who was impressed with his talent. Shortly thereafter, Ralph received a reply from K. Neil Walling, Chrysler’s design chief at the time, suggesting he attend design school, which he ultimately did.
An avid car enthusiast who enjoys spending time at the track, go-karting, and watching Formula 1 auto racing, Gilles has participated in the Mille Miglia, Targa Newfoundland Rally, the Car, and Driver One Lap of America, and the SRT Viper Cup Series. In addition, he has frequently served as a judge at various Concours d’Elegance events across the country including Pebble Beach, Amelia Island, Hilton Head, and The Inn at St. John, along with the Eyes On Design car show.
He’s obviously had a successful career in the auto industry. But, what stands out most is his true spirit, his raw passion for automobiles, and his charismatic way of inspiring an audience. With that said, he told me that he always has to keep his teams of talented designers motivated, and he often does that through his presentations. But, he likes to go beyond the typical corporate shpiel. He’s all about doing things differently, which I greatly admire. As a trailblazer, he loves getting people to think out of the box while creating memorable moments.
For that reason, he decided to stage a team-building experience for his designers by renting out an amphitheater and hosting a movie night. But this wasn’t just any movie night. Because he always would say the phrase, “do you want to get Sea Biscuited?”, many of his designers didn’t understand his reference. So, he decided to give them a private showing of his beloved movie.
If you’re unfamiliar with the film, here’s a brief explanation by Wikipedia. “The film is loosely based on the life and racing career of Seabiscuit, an undersized and overlooked thoroughbred racehorse, whose unexpected successes made him a hugely popular media sensation in the United States during the Great Depression.” Given the real-life horsepower that these designers have to think about, now that they finally understand Ralph’s fired-up motto, it fuels them to work harder and out-design the competition.
And, when it comes to keeping Ralph inspired, let’s just say you might be surprised. He told me that the X-Men inspire him. Given my love for Wonder Woman (and all the DC and Marvel characters, for that matter), this struck a chord with me. But, our chat didn’t stop there. We went on to talk about the Skip Barber racing school (which used to be done at Laguna Seca racetrack in Monterey), how he and his wife, Doris, both love getting on the track together, and even how a car has the power to influence our personalities and lifestyles.
As one of his favorite events to catch up with his peers, Ralph told me, “Car week at Monterey is an amazing time to reflect on the lasting power of car culture. Reconnect with long-time friends, see people, and see vehicle legends firsthand. Alfa Romeo fits right in, whether it’s a masterpiece from the early 1900s or the new Quadrifoglio Giulia. Respect is granted with every thumb up and wave. Alfas for enthusiasts by enthusiasts!”
Image credit: Nicole Palumbo (Event Marketing for Alfa-Romeo)
As if you’re wondering, Ralph’s wife (and car-racing sidekick) is just as fun and interesting as him.
Doris Gilles (pictured below with Ralph) is the Founder & Executive Director of Project Beautiful – Inside and Out, a Metro Detroit non-profit that was launched in 2015 with a mission to “build confidence and inspire hope as individuals and families (especially women in shelter and similar situations) rebuild their lives”. Aside from her heartfelt passion for helping people, she also has a love of travel and cars. What was really sweet to learn is that they both met while working at Chrysler (over 20-years ago), and have become quite the dynamic duo ever since.
Image c/o Ralph & Doris Gilles
Fortunately (for Ralph), Doris is just as into automobiles as he is, which makes their relationship even more fulfilling for both of them. She even penned a story for the website “A Girls Guide to Cars” which explained how she got into racing. She starts off the must-read article by saying, “this is a story of my journey from supporting my husband trackside in the mid-1990s to being on track as a girl racer the last three years. What I hope you’ll gain from this is 1) courage to try something new and maybe intimidating and 2) a sense of comfort and relief that you can enjoy a hobby however you see fit and to whatever extent you like!”
Doris says, “Monterey Car Week is one of my favorite events of the year! Ralph and I always look forward to seeing our car enthusiast friends from all over the country and the world. As owners of a few vintage Alfa Romeos and with an Alfa Romeo Stelvio as my daily driver, the annual Motor Trend / Alfa Romeo Party at Folktale Winery is always a highlight! Funny story about our Stelvio, we knew we wanted Misano Blue with yellow calipers. Our local dealer only had one with red, so we drove over 200 miles to a dealer in another state to get the right color combination! That’s what happens when you’re married to a designer!”
She went on to say, “Concours Sunday, I love seeing all of the beautiful cars and fashions on the field. I tend to like the classic Ferrari’s, Porsche’s, Alfa Romeo’s, and Maserati’s in beautiful pearlescent whites, blues, and greens. I also like to take pictures with cars that match my outfit that day – so this year it was cars that were orange! And of course, the Concept Lawn is always fun and exciting!
Even if you can’t afford tickets to the events, you can still enjoy the week! Our friend, Ed Loh, from Motor Trend, just shared at a Forum that one of the most inexpensive ways to enjoy the week is to camp at Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca. The historic races there and Concours d’Lemons are some great low-cost events. Also, you can see and enjoy so many exotic and classic cars just hanging out on the streets of downtown Monterey and Carmel, and at the entrance to events like The Quail and auctions!”
And, of course, the conversations and cocktails didn’t stop there. I also had a chance to catch up with Ant Anstead and meet his lovely new girlfriend, actress Renée Zellweger. Ant and I met a few years ago at the Alfa party, as he was hosting and speaking at the event that year (as pictured below). At the time, he was the Co-Host of the show, Wheeler Dealers, which was the world’s biggest TV car restoration show that boasted a global reach of over 200 million viewers.
With a background as a mechanic and designer, he’s been building bespoke cars since his youth and has hosted multiple shows. He’s since gone on to host a new television show, Celebrity IOU Joyride (that just premiered this month on Discovery+), and also has become an entrepreneur by reviving the old coachbuilding company, Radford Motors.
During this year’s Monterey Car Week, Ant and his team (including Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button) debuted the Radford Type 62-2, a “modern take on a sixties folk hero” (as Road & Track calls it). Essentially, he and his company have built a contemporary supercar in collaboration with Lotus.
Based on the classic 1960’s road racer, this updated version of the Lotus combines a futuristic look that pays homage to the heritage of the brand. They showcased the new car at The Quail, a prestigious motorsports gathering hosted at Quail Lodge that sells out every car week. Radford will only be producing 62 of the supercharged 3.5-liter V-6, 600hp automobiles, making them ultra-exclusive and super-desirable (amongst elite car collectors).
During his time at car week, he also spoke on one of the panels at the Pebble Beach Classic Car Forum (which was moderated by Ed Loh and featured speakers Bisi Ezerioha, Tory Belleci, and Jonny Lieberman). In between car events and launching his new company alongside his sweetheart and pals, Ant had a lot to celebrate. If you happen to follow celebrity gossip, then you’ll be happy to hear how his life is moving ahead in a positive direction (on both a personal and a professional level).
As you can see, Monterey Car Week has become the epicenter of ideation and innovation for the auto industry. From thrilling test drives and concept car displays to exciting global debuts, superhero-worthy supercars, and industry insiders, auto week is the ultimate play place for anyone who’s into cars. To learn more, check out the previous coverage of Monterey Car Week on Inspirations & Celebrations.